THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF CHRISTIAN LONGO
Willamette Week, Aug. 14, 2002
by CARLTON SMITH
Editor’s Note: This is the first half of a two- part series.
The conclusion will appear in next week’s WW.
Sometime around two in the morning of Dec. 17, 2001, 27-year- old Christian Michael Longo allegedly drove his stolen red Pontiac Montana van onto the narrow bridge over Lint Slough on the outskirts of tiny Waldport, Ore. There, according to authorities who have charged Longo with four murders, he tied pillowcases weighted with stones around the ankles of two of his children, put them inside a sleeping bag, then threw the bag over the rail into the Stygian waters.
Based on what police apparently told Longo’s in-laws, 4- yea r-old Zachary and 3-year-old Sadie were still alive when their father cast them into the rainy darkness; both children followed their mother, Maryjane Baker Longo, and their baby sister, Madison, already on the far side of the divide between the living and the dead.
And if the state of Oregon has its way, Christian Longo himself will someday join them, courtesy of a publicly owned hypodermic needle.
While such family massacres are hardly new, the Longo case stands out primarily because of what the accused perpetrator did not do: take his own life as the last act of whatever desperation had driven him to such extremes–witness, for example, the murder-suicide of the six members of the Bryant family in McMinnville just three months after the Longo madness. Instead, as is now well known, Longo headed for the Mexican Riviera for an apparent fun-filled vacation.
After his arrest Jan. 13 at a grass shack on a beach some 60 miles south of Cancun by Mexican authorities and the FBI, Longo was returned to Newport, where he has been in the Lincoln County jail for the past eight months. As things now stand, Longo has yet to enter a plea to seven counts of murder (the kids count double under Oregon law). That will happen, it appears, sometime this fall, when Circuit Court Judge Robert Huckleberry has scheduled a round of hearings on a series of motions brought by Longo’s public defenders, Kenneth Hadley and Steven Krasik.
At this stage, of course, only part of the Longo story has been told; as the October hearings unfold, a defense to the charges will doubtless be erected, possibly in the area of diminished capacity. It is even possible–although it doesn’t seem likely–that Longo’s lawyers may show that Longo is factually innocent: that the murders were committed by someone else. But the brutal facts of the case seem to indicate otherwise.
Thus, the Longo trial will almost certainly come down to the so-far-unanswered question: Why? Why would a 27-year-old father of three, by all accounts a bright, extroverted, socially skilled, good-looking young man with marvelous potential, suddenly decide to murder his beautiful wife and three lovely children?
This is hardly an academic matter: Indeed, the answer to the question may help determine whether Longo himself lives or dies.
But killing Chris Longo won’t resolve all the culpability that the tragic case has engendered: It won’t do a single thing to improve the indifference and incompetence in the nation’s law-enforcement network that helped permit the horror to come to pass. And in a nation where the capacity of law-enforcement agencies to connect the dots may be critical in preventing the next 9/11, the official failures in the Longo case are most disquieting.
Christian Michael Longo was born Jan. 23, 1974, somewhere in the state of Iowa. According to his in-laws, the Baker family of Michigan, Christian was the elder of two sons born to a young woman and her abusive husband.
The pertinent question here, from a defense point of view, is not whether these assertions are true or false, but whether a man like Longo might actually believe them–or indeed, even act on them. In other words, if Longo were to say that he intended only to spare his wife and children from suffering the tribulations of Satan’s Rule, or even that the Devil made him do it, who would be able to authoritatively say he was wrong? Depending on the Longo defense attorneys’ final strategy, it is thus possible that the stage might be set, in Longo’s forthcoming trial, for a discordant clash between the rule of law and the rule of religion.
In the early 1990s, the Longos moved to Ypsilanti, Mich., just east of the university town of Ann Arbor, where Joseph Longo continued to rise in his career as a retail executive. Christian was 18. About this time he met Maryjane Irene Baker, a fellow member of a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Ypsilanti.
At 25, Maryjane was almost seven years older than Christian. That she would find herself involved with Christian Longo–still a teenager, still unformed as an adult, and apparently directionless at that stage of his life–had as much to do with the Jehovah’s Witnesses as anything else.
“The Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to go outside of their religion to find mates,” says Jennifer Kegley, Maryjane’s older sister and a former Jehovah’s Witnesses congregant. “So that leaves them to what’s there [in the church]. And he was a very nice guy, very well-spoken, very nice-looking.”
In taking up with Christian Longo, it seems, Maryjane was striving for the sort of idealized marriage that her church propounded; and in hanging onto it even when it was obviously turning very sour, she may be said to have become a very real martyr to her unflagging faith–that, no matter what trials and tribulations awaited her, she would remain true to her creed, even unto death.
Maryjane Irene Baker was born on April 25, 1967, the third of five children born to Jim and Susan Baker of the Ann Arbor area. According to the Baker siblings, the couple divorced in the early 1970s. About the same time, Susan Baker joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The five Baker children–brother Mark and sisters Jennie Kegley, Maryjane, Sally Clark and Penny Dupuie–went with Susan, and all of them were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses, although three of the five would fall away as adults. Maryjane and her younger sister Sally kept the faith, however.
When she met Christian, Maryjane was a secretary for the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. When Chris began courting Maryjane, he had just moved out of his parents’ home in southeastern Ypsilanti and had begun work, first at a camera shop and later at an outlet that sold and installed spas and fireplaces. Later, his future in-laws would remark on his penchant for spending money that he did not have. “He had to have the best of everything,” they would say.
Maryjane and Chris were married in Ann Arbor in the spring of 1993. They soon moved to a small apartment over a nice family restaurant, Cady’s, in Depot Town, Ypsilanti’s historic district. The Bakers believe that Maryjane was paying most of the bills.
“That’s the way she was brought up,” Jenny said later. “To obey your husband, to love him, to do everything for him…. I mean, he’s ‘the master.’ He is it. Because their vows are: I will obey.”
The Bakers all saw Maryjane’s fondest ambition as being a wife and mother.
“She wanted to be a wife, a mother, you know–in love, married,” says Jenny. “Her kids were her life,” says Cathy Baker, Mark Baker’s wife.
Maryjane quit her job to stay home with the babies, and it appears that this was about the time that things first started going wrong, because soon Chris quit his job, too.
He told Maryjane’s family that he had a new job, working as a “correspondent” for the Wall Street Journal. Or maybe it was The New York Times–Jenny Kegley and Cathy Baker were never really sure where Chris was getting his money, only that he seemed to go out of town a lot. And they also knew that whatever story he told Maryjane, she would believe him, because Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t lie.
In the fall of 1999, there was another baby: Madison, born Oct. 29. By this time, some of Chris’ financial juggling was beginning to fall to earth: He began to bounce house-payment checks to Susan and James Lowery, Maryjane’s mother and her husband.
“It was like she took care of him, and then she had the kids,” Mark Baker says. “So [then] it was time for him to take care of them, and he couldn’t keep up with that lifestyle…and so, in order to do that, he had to steal.”
Two weeks later, Chris incorporated his own business, Final Touch Construction Cleaning, a business name that would eventually come to have a highly ironic, and perhaps intentional, double meaning.
The history of Final Touch is likely to become an issue in Longo’s upcoming trial, assuming that a trial takes place. From one perspective, it can be argued that from the time he established the company, Chris Longo’s intent was to cheat and defraud as many people as possible; even the name–“Final Touch”–seems to indicate a possible con job.
What is abundantly clear is that by the spring of the year 2000, Chris was engaged in all manner of deceptions. He had begun an affair with another woman, a fellow congregant among the Jehovah’s Witnesses; according to the Bakers, Maryjane discovered this unfaithfulness on Chris’ part in May 2000 and confronted him about it after reading some of Chris’ email.
But this wasn’t the end of Chris’ duplicity.
The state police called Maryjane. She drove to the station in the red van. Farkas explained what was going on. He was struck by Maryjane’s demeanor: She didn’t seem surprised at Chris’ predicament, nor did she seem upset. At first Farkas wondered whether Maryjane was in on the scam, but he eventually concluded that she was not.
“She made no incriminating statements,” Farkas noted in his report.
And here is one of the first instances, but not the last, of the police investigatory breakdowns that would eventually occur throughout the tragedy of the Longos.
For if the police–having originally suspected that Maryjane might be part of the forged-check scam–had gone the extra mile to check the vehicle identification number of the van Maryjane was driving, they would have discovered that it had been stolen six months earlier in Ohio. At that point, Chris (and possibly Maryjane) would probably have been taken to jail; and once Chris was in jail, a great number of future events might have turned out quite differently.
Three weeks after Chris’ guilty plea, Farkas began hearing from a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses Chris had hired to work for Final Touch; they complained that the paychecks Chris had given them were made of rubber. Farkas contacted Chris, who assured him that he would make all the checks good before his formal sentencing; he did not do so, however.
NEXT WEEK: The Longos’ outlaw trail leads to Ohio and eventually a small resort community in Oregon, and how the police kept missing Longo–until it was too late.
Carlton Smith worked at Willamette Week from 1980 to 1983. He is a former investigative reporter for The Los Angeles Times and the Seattle Times who is now a full-time true-crime writer and the author of 15 books, including the bestselling Search for the Green River Killer. Currently he is writing a book on the Longo family murders for St. Martin’s Press, which is due to be published early next year. To obtain information for use in the book and for this story, Smith traveled to Oregon, Michigan, Ohio and South Dakota, conducting interviews and collecting documents. He resides in San Francisco.
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